International Women’s Day: advice from female leaders in the hospitality industry

The  Staff Canteen

To celebrate International Women's Day, we asked female figureheads in the hospitality industry what advice they would give to anyone wishing to be successful in their career. 

We wanted to know what they think is most important to remember when training to be a chef, a front of house manager and everything in between.

Dominique Crenn, chef owner, Atelier Crenn, Petit Crenn, Bar Crenn

Dominique Crenn 2

Three Michelin-starred Dominique Crenn said that when she left France, “it was a very difficult time in any job for a woman to be really at the forefront of an amazing job - it was not the time. France was very bureaucratic and it was hard to get things done.”

But when she went to San Francisco, she felt that things were different there.

“It was the kind of  place where I could be who I wanted to be and not have any pressure from the community or the society to fit the mould that they wanted me to fit, I could really be who I wanted to be.”

“This was my father's advice to me: be humble, go out there and just kick some ass.”

The city also boasted many female-led kitchens, which inspired Dominique. 

She cited Nancy Oakes and Joyce Goldstein as examples, but said that “a lot of women were at the forefront of amazing restaurants.” 

Knowing that she was free to blossom in what she loved most is what drove Dominique to settle in California.

“I got into cooking because it's always been a passion of mine and I think that was something where I could perhaps express myself. It was a language. It was a platform. So that was the reason,” she said.

Dominique Crenn's advice:

“You need to know yourself. You need to know who you are before you do it.” 

She added: “When you start to get to know yourself and you know who you are and you are confident with yourself, when you go out there just understand that no one and nobody is better than you, but you're not better than them.”

“This was my father's advice to me: be humble, go out there and just kick some ass.” 

Mariana Chavez, pastry chef, Jamie Oliver's Fifteen Cornwall Chavez.jpeg

Mariana Chavez is the pastry chef at Jamie Oliver’s 15 in Cornwall, where she creates visually-arresting desserts, often using vegetables rather than fruit.

Her experience of being a woman in a male-dominated environment has mostly been positive, though on one occasion, she told us, things turned sour. "This guy, he was sabotaging everything I did. He added ingredients, he changed the temperature on the oven. He was awful." 

Mariana Chavez's advice:

"You have to work really hard and don't let people stop you. There is more and more diversity in the kitchen, I think things are changing now. We have good examples of great women chefs and we need more good examples. Without them we don't have a reason to think it is possible." 

Emma Ainsworth, restaurateur, No.6, Mahé, The Mariners

Emma Ainsworth

Emma Ainsworth is the director at No.6 in Padstow, also the location of Cici’s bar. She and her husband Paul Ainsworth are well settled in Cornwall: they recently acquired Mahe and The Mariners.

Emma said that their approach to recruitment does not consider whether the person is male or female, but rather how driven they are. (Speaking of which, check out Olivia Carthew's new blog about being a FOH apprentice at No.6!)

Admittedly, she said, it is likely to be harder for women to work in hospitality, but she and Paul firmly believe that this is wrong.

Emma Ainsworth's advice:

"It is going to be hard work. It is intense. But there are a lot of different personalities, whether it's front or back of house, so try different things. There are so many elements to hospitality, I think there should be a place for everybody. There's such a wide range of roles. If it's what you want to do, just keep trying. My mum always used to say 'you really don't know a job until you've tried it for at least six months." 

"Surround yourself with great leaders, as long as you've got someone to learn from and you're working with people that inspire you, people who've got your best interest at heart."

"Know it's going to be tough and there are some unsociable hours but also that hospitality is some of the most rewarding work there is." 

Anna Haugh, chef owner, Myrtle

Anna Haugh

We heard Anna Haugh’s views on what holds many women back from becoming great chefs – that is, a feeling of exclusion fostered by men with no experience of sharing the kitchen with them.

Anna Haugh's advice:

I'd give the exact same advice [to girls as] I'd give to the guys which is: it sucks. It'll be years before you understand anything. You think you know how to handle an egg yolk or temper chocolate or cook a piece of meat. You then have to cook a different type of meat and a very different type of chocolate and make something different with your egg yolk and all of it “goes wrong.

You only become a great chef through all of your mistakes so you have to cook up every single recipe 10 times and then you're a master of that recipe. That's the only way you learn.

“The only thing I would ever worry about with girls is that you feel like you don't belong sometimes, if you've got 10 men and one of you.

“The only advice I'd give them is on your days off and take care of yourself, get back to your friends make sure that you have friendships in your life because I was very lonely for the first years when I cooked [in England]. It was really really really hard.

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th March 2019

International Women’s Day: advice from female leaders in the hospitality industry